Post 429 to play ‘all-road’ schedule
The Ephrata American Legion Post 429 baseball team enters the 2014 season as the three-time defending District 10 league champions.
They also are without a home.
Due to the pending turf project at War Memorial Field, where work is expecting to begin in the next few weeks, the Post 429ers have become this year’s version of the Road Warriors.
Ephrata, which has qualified for Regionals the last four years and played in the State Tournament in 2012, will play every one of it’s 25-game schedule on the road.
It obviously isn’t an ideal situation for a team that is trying to defend a league title, but Ephrata and Coach Derek Sipe are trying to make the best of it.
“It’s definitely something that is a lot different for us, especially since we play on one of the nicer fields in the area and have teams wanting to come to play there,” Sipe said Tuesday. “It’s hard to say right now what all the challenges will be, but we’ve done some traveling the last couple summers with non-league games, and there is something about being on the road. It’s more of a focused environment. You are spending more time together so it helps you focus in on games because you are spending so much time together. I think in the long run it could be good for us because once you get into playoffs you are doing more traveling anyway. This is just another step that will prepare us for that.”
When you win three-straight league titles, obviously playoffs are something you think about, and there is no reason to believe this team won’t be there come time for the post-season.
Ephrata is already off to a 5-0 start, which included a pair of doubleheader sweeps over Conestoga Valley and Manheim Township as well as a non-league win over Richland.
The Post 429 squad features most of the key players from this past high school season, and all of its pitchers including Morgan Stauffer, Austin Lowery and Gavilan Fogarty-Harnish.
Also returning are right-handed pitcher Seth Griffith, a key member of last year’s staff, and outfielder Jake Terry, a gifted hitter from Cocalico who batted over .500 this past spring for the Eagles.
Joining Terry from Cocalico, which does not have a legion team, are newcomers Jeremy Marshall (outfield) and Nate Baxter, a pitcher/first baseman.
“Last summer we learned that adding Jake Terry to the team obviously was a big addition,” Sipe said. “It took him half of the year or so to kind of get acquainted with the guys and really feel comfortable before he settled in. Having him back this year kind of eases that bridge with having the two other Cocalico players that we were able to add. It seems like they are pretty integrated already with the team. I think Jake did a lot to make that be an easier transition for them, and obviously Seth is nice to have back because he’s an extra arm and because of the experience that he has.”
While pitching has been very good early, the key, said Sipe, has been a lineup that features tough outs one through nine.
“Lineup wise we are very solid one through nine,” he said. “We have the majority of (Ephrata’s) high school team and then we were able to add those couple pieces from Cocalico. Any time you can add someone who can bat over .500 in the high school season like Jake did this past year…he’s a pretty special player. Adding him also makes our team faster. He plays well into the type of baseball that we want to play, and that’s something I’m real excited about. I’m really excited about what the lineup looks like this year and the possibilities that they can do. I know we are always going to have pitchers that will battle out there. They are going to throw strikes and give us an opportunity to win every single game. And, if we can find ways to score some runs and continue to play good defense, it should be a successful year once again.”
There are 10 teams in the league this season and six of those squads will make the playoffs. The top two teams earn first-round byes in District 10.
“That’s really our number one goal right now,” Sipe said of finishing among the top two and earning the bye. “That’s the first thing we want to accomplish because if you get the first-round bye that really sets you up nicely in the league playoffs.”
As the team with a target squarely on its back, that could be a tough thing. However, Sipe said his players are used to being in that situation and should be able to handle it.
“I think we are used to it,” he said. “I mean these guys played three or four years of high school baseball where they have that same target in Section Two, and the past couple summers, and now all of them have been involved on the field to witness what has happened and what we’ve been able to accomplish…I don’t think this year is any different. There are guys that this is their last summer of playing baseball and that’s really the focus that they have. It’s not about trying to be a four-time champion or whatever…It’s this is my last chance and I want to go out a winner. I think that’s the kind of attitude that we’ve been able to maintain the last couple of years, that urgency, and we have that once again with several of the players.”
If things all fall into place, Sipe said he can see another long post-season run in store again in 2014.
“I definitely believe that,” he said. “After doing this for a couple years now you can start to compare teams. Every team is a little different but it seems we’ve had similar pieces each year. The pitching has kind of been the foundation and that’s been that way since Day One. And if you have reliable pitching you are going to give yourself an opportunity to do something special each summer.”
Ephrata opened the season May 25 with its doubleheader sweep of host Conestoga Valley.
In Game One, Ephrata broke open a 3-1 lead with a four-run fifth to cruise to a 7-2 victory.
Catcher Colin Albright knocked in a pair of runs with two hits to pace the offense. Fogarty-Harnish (4 Ks, 1 BB) allowed just two runs over six frames to earn the win on the hill. Griffith pitched the final frame and allowed just one hit in his first appearance of the season.
In the second game, Ephrata plated six runs in the top of the first and easily cruised to an eventual 14-3 victory that was cut short after five innings due to the 10-run rule.
Michael Caraballo and Anthony Embiscuso both knocked in four runs each with a pair of two-hit games to pace the offense. Andre Good and Josh Gehman also had a pair of hits for Ephrata. Stauffer, Lowery and Ethan Sipe combined to pitch the five innings on the mound to close out the easy win.
After earning a forfeit in its non-league game with Richland this past Saturday, Ephrata took two from Manheim Township this past Sunday.
In Game One, the Post 429ers scored six runs in the fourth to key an eventual 9-4 victory. Embiscuso had two hits while Marshall contributed a key RBI double. Lowery went the distance on the mound scattering six hits with six strikeouts to earn the win.
In Game Two, the Ephrata offense produced eight runs over the first two innings and that was all Fogarty-Harnish would need as he struck out four and walked none in an 11-0 victory.
Terry went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and a pair of RBI to lead the Ephrata offense. Baxter also contributed a pair of RBI in the victory.
Ephrata will now be idle until Wednesday, June 11 when the Post 429ers travel to Shillington for a non-league contest, beginning at 7 p.m.